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I’ve taken up gambling -- the gardening kind | Lisa Scottoline

I’m playing fig blackjack. I’m the player, and the tree is the dealer. Should I stay or hit? And if I hit, will I go bust?

Lisa Quarantine here.

And I’ve taken up gambling.

Not with cards, sports, or anything normal.

Let me explain.

Every vegetable gardener is a gambler, as in, deciding when to pick.

If you pick too early, your veggies don’t ripen in the sun. But if you pick too late, the birds get them.

For example, this summer, our cherry tomatoes were a casino.

Every day, new cherry tomatoes were ripening, and Francesca and I had to decide whether to pick them.

Every day, we placed our bets.

Every morning, we woke up to find the birds were high rollers.

Then we made a rule that if we weren’t sure, we would pick. So we picked the cherry tomatoes and let them ripen inside the house.

Francesca did the same thing with the poblano peppers she grows, which she puts in her morning burrito.

Yes, my daughter cooks herself breakfast, every day.

Me, I drink breakfast.

Coffee, that is.

But now summer is over, and it’s fig season.

But the thing about figs is they do not ripen after they’re picked.

Instead, they rot.

So you know what this means.

I’m playing fig blackjack.

I’m the player, and the tree is the dealer.

Should I stay or hit?

And if I hit, will I go bust?

I’m trying to understand the expression, “I don’t give a fig.”

Because I’m overthinking this fig tree.

By way of background, I never had my own fig tree until a friend gave me one for my birthday. I put it in the backyard, but about a week later, a big oak tree fell on it and crushed it to the ground.

But the fig tree came back, and now it’s bursting with figs. It’s about eight feet tall in full leaf, and weirdly, stinks to high heaven. I thought cats were peeing on it until Francesca told me that was how they smell.

I probably have 30 or more figs on each branch, sticking out like little green balls. They get bigger very slowly, and I am watching them like crazy to figure out when they’re ripe.

Meanwhile there are 750 million articles online telling you how to determine when figs are ripe.

I didn’t expect to have to study for this fig tree.

But now I’m all over it.

Color is supposed to be a clue to ripeness, in that figs turn purplish-brown, so as soon as one turns lavender, I keep watch on it. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting where the lavender ones were and lost them on the tree.

What do you do, take a left at the leaf?

So I put Post-it notes on the lavender figs, but then it rained and the Post-its washed off.

Another way to be able to tell when a fig is ripe is that their stem goes limp.

Enough said.

Online, I learned more about figs than I ever wanted to know. For example, fig trees secrete a mildly toxic sap known as fig latex when the fruit are picked. The substance can be so caustic that it removes warts.

Wait, what?

I was careful of the fig latex when I picked.

I love my warts.

I also learned that fig trees bear fruit only because of fig wasps. Wasps are born from eggs inside the figs, and when the females hatch, they crawl out and find a new fig in which to lay their eggs.

Did you just throw up in your mouth?

Meanwhile I keep my eggs inside me.

Then they went away.

I think.

To return to point, that means that there might be dead bugs in figs.

Bad news.

But the good news is that as a fig ripens, it produces an enzyme that dissolves the bug exoskeletons.

It’s not a fruit, it’s a horror story.

And it’s all the more reason not to pick a fig before it ripens.

I go out and check the tree every day, in the morning and evening.

I scrutinize each fig.

I have to make the right bet or I risk bug ingestion.

Stay or hit?

It’s a gross gamble.

I picked five figs today. They tasted almost good and were mildly crunchy. From seeds, not bug eggs.

I hope.

I checked inside to make sure there were no exoskeletons.

I didn’t see any, so the enzyme got them.

Maybe that’s what happened to my eggs?

Look for Lisa’s first historical novel, “Eternal," coming on March 23, 2021. Also look for Francesca’s debut novel, “Ghosts of Harvard,” on sale now.